The Low Down on Creatine
Creatine, known to scientists as methyl guanidine-acetic acid, is an amino acid which is primarily used by your body for energy. Every person’s body has something called a creatine pool. The purpose of taking powder creatine is to increase that creatine pool, thus giving your body a larger source of fuel to perform work, i.e. lift weights.
Creatine began to pick up steam amongst the athletic community in the early 1990’s. Since then it has become the number one supplement in all of weight lifting. Millions of users can attest to the benefits of creatine supplementation. The primary benefits of creatine are the volumization of muscles, strength gains, and serving as a lactic acid buffer which in turn will allow you to bang out that last rep or two.
Creatine is naturally formed in our body by the combination of arginine, glycine, and methionine. We ingest less than five percent of our total creatine pool by the foods we eat. It would take 18 steaks to add up to 20 grams of creatine added to our creatine pool. Obviously, this is not one of those natural substances we can consume more of through our diet alone.
How it Works
When you ingest creatine, it binds with phosphate in your cells to create a substance called phosphocreatine. This compound is stored in your muscle tissue just waiting to be called upon as a fuel source. When a human muscle is called upon to do short, but intense work, such as lifting a heavy weight, the body calls upon the alactic system, or the ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) cycle to generate energy. ATP is not naturally in abundance in our bodies, so when you run out of ATP you run out of energy or strength to move the weight any further. This is where creatine steps in.
The byproduct of the ATP cycle is ADP (Adenosine Diphosphate), which is not beneficial to our body. What the phosphocreatine does in this scenario, is quickly turn the ADP back into ATP, thus providing you more fuel sources than you would have otherwise had. In short, the consumption of creatine provides for more phosphocreatine, which provides for more ATP, which allows you to work harder and longer, thus seeing bigger gains. Simple as that.
In addition to allowing you to work harder, creatine naturally attracts water in the body. What this does is super-saturate muscular cells throughout your body. The result is larger, firmer, just-got-out-of-the-gym looking muscles. Many fitness heads refer to this phenomenon as the “chronic pump”. Larger, harder muscles in just a matter of days of starting your creatine cycle. What’s not to love?
Muscular gains of three to five pounds in the first ten days is typical. Gains of up to ten pounds of muscle isn’t unheard of! Sure, a lot of this weight will be the result of your muscular cells being super-saturated, however this is still good news to you. Every additional pound of muscle on your body requires your metabolism to work that much harder, thereby allowing you to burn more calories than you otherwise would have.
Muscles are 70% water to begin with. Take away even half that water and you are left with dinky, little, weak muscles. By ensuring high fluid levels within your muscle tissue, you allow your muscles to stay properly hydrated, which is what they need to make those impressive gains. The increased size will allow the muscles to “grow into themselves”, thus making gains easier to come by. Even if all creatine did was increase muscle size due to water retention in the muscle tissue, it still provides a benefit!
That said, a study out of Texas A&M University found that pigs fed 25 grams of creatine daily for five days had increases of 5 pounds of lean muscle mass, NOT strictly water weight, as opposed to the another set of piggies which got none and saw no increases in muscle mass. Sausage anyone?
Think back to the last time you were pumping some serious iron in the gym. When you get to your last couple reps the pain in your muscle starts to become unbearable and you have to put the weight down and rest for a period of time. This is the result of lactic acid buildup in the muscle. It goes without saying that if you had the ability to delay the onset of this pain, the significance would be tremendous. Imagine being able to increase the amount you train by 25% without adding any time to your workout. By being able to achieve a few extra reps on each set, or a heavier weight, you set yourself up to make bigger gains in less time.
Other Added Benefits
At this point, we realize the benefit creatine has to our muscle development, but there are also other benefits it has to our body. The University of Tokyo conducted a study which looked at creatine ingestion on the brain. Researchers found that taking eight grams of creatine a day for five straight days help reduce mental fatigue. In addition, there have been studies suggesting creatine use protects the brain cells against traumatic brain injury, i.e. concussions, brain loss, etc. as a result of a jarring blow to the head.
Herpes. Yes, good old herpes. Similar to that chick you pick up at a party who seems cool, but then she moves in with you, gets crazy, and refuses to leave….ever. If someone told you how to keep this crazy lady under control, you’d be interested wouldn’t you? Creatine can help inhibit the herpes virus, both kinds, HSV 1 and 2, from replicating itself in the body. Studies seem to indicate that cyclocreatine, a compound structurally and functionally similar to creatine, has the ability to deny the herpes virus. Since creatine and cyclocreatine have shown other similar effects in rodents, scientists speculate that creatine retains the anti-viral potential as well.
How to Take This Stuff
Creatine is best ingested by first going through a loading phase. This allows creatine levels to properly saturate your muscles and provide that with a large creatine pool. Aim to take 20 grams of creatine per day, spread over about 4 servings per day, for five to seven straight days. After that, go for one teasooon, about five grams, of creatine a day once a day for 10 weeks. Some experts say it is best to take the creatine about 2 hours before a workout, while others suggest it is better to take immediately after a workout along with a high GI food. Personally, I find better results taking the creatine after a workout. Sometimes I’ll take it with my protein and a banana, or sometimes by itself. Either way, I find this way to work for me personally. Everyone is different so experiment a little on your own.
After 10 weeks, give yourself a solid two weeks off creatine. When you are ready to start another cycle, follow the same format with the load and maintenance phases.
The Scare Tactics
In January 2001, some very outlandish statements were printed across headlines everywhere. They stated, “creatine, a dietary supplement used by many athletes to increase bulk, could lead to cancer” (Reuters, January 24, 2001). The French Agency of Medical Security conducted a study for the AFSSA and concluded on the following three points:
1. Creatine could be involved in the formation of carcinogenic nitrosamines, under conditions of high concentrations of sugars and amino acids.
- – According to the U.S. Council for Responsible Nutrition “These conditions do not apply to oral intake of creatine, and thus allegations of lack of safety for oral creatine cannot be based on this issue.”
2. Creatine could be involved in the formation of carcinogenic agents known as heterocyclic amines from creatine during the charbroiling of meat.
- – The Council of Responsible Nutrition responded by saying “The possibility is supported by a large body of scientific data, but is not relevant to oral creatine supplementation… Allegations of lack of safety for oral creatine cannot be based on this issue.”
3. Creatine itself might be a carcinogenic.
- – This is interesting because the quacks (I mean scientists) cited absolutely zero studies of any kind to substantiate this claim. Nothing, zero, ziltch, zippo. In other words they made it up. If you haven’t caught on yet, THERE IS NO SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE TO SUGGEST THAT CREATINE IS A CARCINOGENIC.
- A leading nutrition council summed it up in the following: “The recent press reports on creatine safety were wrong and misleading. The AFSSA report that prompted this negative publicity does not contain any scientific evidence to support a contention that oral creatine might cause cancer.”
- At the end of the day there is supporting evidence to suggest creatine is safe for normal ingestion. While there have been no long term studies on creatine, you should feel reasonably safe taking this supplement. Admittedly though, it is your body, and if you don’t feel comfortable taking something, you don’t have to. Just keep in mind that the news loves sensational headlines, and a claim of “Creatine = Cancer!” will certainly be sensational enough to nab them some viewers or readers.
- Have any experiences with creatine? Write us and let us know how it went, our readers would love to have some first hand accounts on the benefits of creatine use!